Chapter 1: Mayola Road
Dateline. New Year 2003. Warm within her Mayola Road studio, Sarah is impatiently awaiting Sandy’s arrival. Outdoors, bitter sub-zero winds sweep the streets of East London, foretelling a snowstorm brewing. But within the studio, all appears comfortable. The fire blazes a welcome from the grate whilst Sarah eagerly anticipates a discussion of the main issue: the fate of their mutual friend Jim, presumably safe they suppose, but out of touch, though apparently still in Bolivia.
At their first opportunity to meet in person Sarah and Sandy are playing evasive and avoid discussing their main topic.
“Jeez, I can’t describe how disastrous this latest journey of mine has been,” Sandy confides. “Meant to be mapping gorilla habitats and their interaction with local communities, but I ended up really confused. Couldn’t work out if I was trying to be an environmentalist or an anthropologist.” For which you blame Jim, Sarah just avoids blurting out. “ Didn’t used to be so lost. What happened?”
But Sandy’s not dumb; she gets the implications.
“Hell-fire, you didn’t even know me back then.”
“Ah but on the evidence of the book...”
“ So now you consider yourself some kind of expert on our lives based on that cursed manuscript Jim sent you. Done well out of it, haven’t you?” Sandy jeers, surveying the fancy wall hangings and furniture, the new linoleum too.
“What would you know about my life before I went into publishing?” Sarah hits back, though it’s true enough that Jim’s book has proved an unexpected gold mine, rescued her from her foundering artistic career.
And so the stand-off continues throughout the morning, past a token sandwich lunch and into the descending darkness of the stormy afternoon, neither of them willing to confront the obvious – that Jim, a key factor in both their lives, is missing and they are both mystified and concerned.
“And now that you’ve decided to go out and look for him ......... Why would that be, then?”
Sandy in her bemused state can’t choose which answer she prefers to offer; either because Jim, in himself a guileless leader, is someone worth monitoring or by having altered her compass direction at least he owes it her to restore true north (north? But could this be an antipodean talking?) – how far she’s strayed off-course.
“ Jim’s fault entirely,” Sandy finally splutters. Weak.
“ You’ve become a blame shifter, gal.” Yes indeed, recalling the cumbia laden lyrics that Jim had so ranted against in tha’ book of his.
Or should Sandy just admit how much she had appreciated being a bit player in his exuberant tale.
“If you can locate him, go join him, Sandy. But beware. He enjoys posing. More than ever, now that he’s become a celebrity of sorts.”
“ Your doing, Sarah. You’ve manipulated his image most cleverly.”
“ I won’t deny that I’ve enjoyed his story. A rattling good yarn. And I’m not the only one. There are others too.”
Sarah takes a moment to reflect on those other acquaintances with whom she’s managed to assemble the printing workshop. She gazes with pride on her ex-studio, now converted into a print shop. She catches Sandy also noting the evidence of new-found wealth, all of a sudden latching onto the redesigned open fireplace.
Returning to the heart of the conversation, Sarah announces ”In fact you can expect a visit now that you’re here in person. Two further members of the cast have announced how anxious they are to join in the search with you.”
“And who might they be, then?”
“No-one you’ve ever met, although they’re mentioned in tha’ book . Koff and Geordie are their names. They also value the reflected glory of being minor characters in this unfolding drama and now they’re curious to see how it plays out.” Because they’ve nothing better to do, remaining unsaid.
“Well they’re too late! My flight leaves tomorrow, and I’m not waiting for anyone.”
“You’ll find that they’re quite persistent. They’ll follow you out. They’re convinced that Jim is in trouble and have decided they want to help him:”
“ Bet you put that idea in their heads. He’s fine. What’s your game, Sarah?”
“ Jim’s a meddler, a meddler who ruined my marriage, who trampled over the only meaningful relation of my adult life.”
“ So setting your ex-hubbie on his trail is your form of vengeance.”
“No, I know that Geordie will enjoy the whole adventure. This is just my way of thanking Jim for the good luck he’s inadvertently brought me.”
“Huh!” was as far as Sandy got in solving this paradox, because right on cue the visitors arrive, dragging after them the storm in a blast of freezing winter air that threatens to spread the fire to various combustible parts of the cluttered room. For all the improvements that Sarah has managed to achieve, the house remains a ramshackle mess, a veritable fire hazard. Rampaging draughts plague the Mayola Road residence much as the ghosts from the ruined Salvation Army HQ out back continue to roam freely about the premises.
So the lads, Geordie and Koff, trundle right on through, clasped arm-in-arm, sweaty from the effort of confronting the squalls of snow which now accompany them into the studio.
“Shut that fucking door, you prize pair of idiots!” Sarah hollers in welcome.
Even through the veneer of wild exuberance brought on by the extreme weather, Geordie and Koff can sense the discord in the room. Geordie immediately launches into a series of reminiscences, quoting famous Jim phrases and incidents. Koff, by nature more sober, silences him with an intense stare and both lapse into embarrassed silence, which Sarah tempers with the necessary cuppa tea.
“Well you goofy pair of oddballs, what have to got say of your reasons for undertaking this escapade,” Sarah intones as an intro for this quixotic quest. If only we had understood how apt the word “quixotic” would be (Koff later will uncover the connection), maybe we’d have paused for thought. But Geordie just sprawls there on his bean-bag cushion, simpering. He’s already over the top in his enthusiasm, inspired, resolved, essentially a lampoon of his own lost soul. Koff merely assumes he has no better way to spend the coming year, and so the (so called, self-styled) Krew have decided they will submit to the need for movement, any action at all, poor souls. And maybe a friend of theirs does need assistance - or maybe not!.
And now it’s Sandy’s turn to resume the offensive against these two smug latecomers.
“Don’t even bother to explain your reasons. Jim has sort of become symbolic, hasn’t he? Just as he’s turned into poor Sarah’s unexpected gold-mine . And now you assume he’ll give meaning to your otherwise empty lives, isn’t that it?” Sandy crows, safely installed on higher moral ground, ignoring how tenuous her own position might look. “You can follow me out if you like. But be it on your own heads. And it’s my initiative. So you’ll have to help me out and accept orders. Understand, you guys?”
A kind of pact has nearly been reached and the Krew suppose they have agreed to support each other to a limited extent.
“ So, do we have the beginnings of a deal?” Sarah hopefully intrudes, as if the matter concerned her. But at this stage we didn’t grasp that all we had achieved was the foundation for future misunderstandings.
“Then, get lost, you idiots. Out.”
And the boys, suitably chastened, get ready to brave the swirling winds once more.
Sarah and Sandy take up positions by the front door to ensure the lads don’t tarry and let the freezing storm blasts in again. As a parting shot Geordie manages, “Have you also been getting those emails from Jim?” And then the lads were swallowed into the cascading elements like the insignificant insects they pretended not to be.
But, oh yes, indeed we had all been receiving those intrusive emails. Next morning a message complete with a set of instructions was waiting at the breakfast table in the dazzling dawn light cast by the pristine snow through the window. Its drift applauded Sandy’s imminent departure and directed her to a specifically chosen hotel. Together with her oatmeal and bran Sarah offers the copy she’d printed off to Sandy. “ It contains detailed instructions for your arrival in La Paz . And you are going to obey his every particular wish? How you’ve changed, Sandy!”
“We’ve been through all that yesterday. So you are in contact with him, Sarah after all!”
“ You’ll need someone back here to organize the show,” snaps Sarah.
Precisely, reflects Sandy. Of the four, Sarah has given herself the role of promoter, the one who doesn’t need to travel, the puppetteer who controls the show.
“ And here’s your copy of tha’ book, for reference”
“Is that all you have to offer?”
Without so much as a civil goodbye between the two, Sandy takes her bags and heads off alone for the midday flight from Heathrow. Snow ploughs have been busy all night, making sure the link roads round London are kept open.